— by Matt Willis —
On Thursday, July 13 a San Juan Hearing Examiner is set to make a decision that local residents feel could put their safety at risk. Community members facing that possibility met at the Eastsound Fire Station to publicly express their concerns last Wednesday, July 5.
Orcas Issues has previously reported that Inter-Island Propane intends to place a 30,000 gallon propane storage tank (with a capacity of over 100,000 pounds of fuel) at 27 Aeroview Lane in Eastsound. Donny Galt, co-owner of the company, led Wednesday’s meeting and attempted to address everyone’s concerns.
Also in attendance were Councilman Rick Hughes, Fire Chief Scott Williams, and Eastsound Water Users Association General Manager/EPRC Member Paul Kamin.
Galt welcomed the crowded meeting hall with a warm smile and explained to attendees that he wants to bring his business to Orcas Island for the benefit of its residents. A competing propane business on Orcas should drive down the cost of this fuel on which most of us depend heavily here on the island, he noted.
However, many attendees seemed leery of Galt’s explanation, noting that it’s their lives and property values that will be negatively impacted by the facility, while Galt profits.
The devastation due to a worst case scenario, a Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapor Explosion (BLEVE), was a concern that everyone shared, especially given the lack of egress for some residents living on Seaview Street. The EPA’s Risk Management Program Guidance for Propane Storage Facilities states that for a 30,000 Gallon tank, the worst case scenario would cause broken glass in buildings up to 0.4 miles away.
The feeling of helplessness expressed by some attendees was palpable as they pointed out that their retirement depended completely on the value of their property. However, one person noted that property values were already deflated since they were adjacent to an area zoned for service and light industrial use in the first place.
To extinguish concerns of a BLEVE or gas leak, Galt carefully walked the group through a slide presentation covering all of the safety precautions and fail-safes to be in place as part of this system. No less than ten physical mechanisms provide redundancy in preventing leaks, including those caused by a pull-away (which was the case for the leak that occurred on the island during the winter of 2015). On top of that, all individuals involved in the propane storage process will have adequate training in proper procedures, risk mitigation, and issue response.
Fire Chief Scott Williams gave his vote of approval for the system by pointing out that the safety systems that Galt presented are what he’d like to see for other installations on the island. Galt followed up, clarifying that the Fire Department has determined there is more than enough water available in the event of fire caused by a leak.
On the other hand, the Fire Chief, with some resignation, admitted that the Fire Department would be hard pressed if the worst case scenario (a BLEVE) were to occur. BLEVEs are rare. A tank must first be exposed to high heat long enough for the container’s structural integrity to be compromised. Pressure release valves, in most cases, can ensure that this condition is never met. In addition, mechanisms can be installed to keep the container cool and extinguish any flame within the area of the container. Such conditions attached to the permit would be one way for the community to essentially eliminate the risk of a BLEVE.
Rick Hughes stated that the county’s recommendation is to approve the permit with conditions. Though the Hearing Examiner will take input from the public, it’s likely that the permit will be approved, he added. It was noted, however, that decisions from the Hearing Examiner can be appealed by “Any person who submitted written comments to the director concerning the [permit] application, and any aggrieved person.” For details on how to submit an appeal see the county’s website.
Paul Kamin took the initiative to copy public comments from previous Orcas Issues articles on the topic and submit them into public record. This should allow any of those individuals to appeal a decision to approve from the Hearing Examiner.
The community leaders in attendance, Rick Hughes, Scott Williams, and Paul Kamin, appeared to be satisfied with Galt’s factual address to each of the concerns expressed by the public. They also expressed confidence that the conditional use permitting process would ultimately ensure the safety of the community. However, the meeting adjourned with many attendees remaining wary of the risks to their safety.